Davos Versus TED. Which Conference Has The Answers To Today's Crisis?

As the World Economic Forum in Davos closed down on Sunday, hundreds of participants hurried to jump on planes to fly to the West Coast to attend that other great global conference of our time, TED. In fact, there was elbowing among many to get on the “Google plane,” that 757 owned by Google that was flying directly to California. Hey, think of that smaller carbon footprint if you could hitch a ride, right?

If you are looking to solutions to the current socio-economic and increasingly political global crisis we find ourselves in, I think TED may have more answers than Davos. Why? There was a major disjuncture in Davos between the problem people and the solution people. Most of the big conference hall talks and sessions were taken up by established economists and government people framing the crisis in traditional categories. Too much leverage. Too much greed. Need big government spending. Need big government regulation. It was the flipside to the conventional wisdom of recent decades that said markets are perfect and efficient and government is stupid and bad. The conversation was all so 20th century.

At the same time, a Third Way was being framed in dozens of little sessions going on in innovation and design at Davos. They were framing problems and solutions in much more 21st ways. These conversations used social media, open sourcing and design thinking to promote new ways of thinking about old problems—and new solutions as well. Jeff Jarvis ran a couple on open collaboration that helped people learn how to use modern tools of organization to create new banking forms.

The most important, however was a small session where Hilary Cottam of Participle presented her work on designing large-scale public projects that address the major social issues of the day through social networking and without massive welfare state, government intervention. I will focus more deeply on Cottam’s use of design thinking is solving social problems in the UK and its application to the US in the future. Right now, here are her 5 core principles: “A shift from: Needs to Capabilities Targeted to Open to All Financial Focus to a Resource Focus Centralised Institutions to Distributed Networks Individual to Social Networks”

While the little room was packed for Hilary’s presentation, it still amount to a tiny fraction of the audience for the big discussions on economics and politics going on in the Conference Hall where silver-haired men and a few women talked about the growing crisis in 20th century terms they were familiar with. Boring. There is a great essay on this by Steve Adler, editor in chief of Business Week online right now.

The TED conference is Hilary Cottam’s frame writ large. The entire conversation of the conference is framed in The New and how it can solve social and economic problems with fresh solutions. It is not about how much government money to spend on repairing roads but what kind of policy can promote entrepreneurship, startups, green technology, and people-focussed, social media-based. TED is about Innovation Economics, not Conventional Economics.

And while I applaud the creation of the Young Global Leaders network in Davos—a network that really works to generate companies, growth and jobs—it is TED that as a whole celebrates what the US and the world needs the most right now. That’s fresh eyes and fresh solutions to worsening socio-economic problems.

It is now too dangerous for politicians and policy-makers NOT to embrace the powerful Third Way of Design and innovation.

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